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  • Reverend James Squire

Swan Lake

Tonight, we will attend a Gala at the Bellevue where our son in law, Meredith Rainey, will be honored as a member of the Black dance community as a pioneering member of the Pennsylvania Ballet Black Alumni.

The weekend of recognizing the black honorees began yesterday with the final performance of Swan Lake by the Pennsylvania Ballet.

There is a saying that if you are only going to see one ballet in your life, see Swan Lake. What I didn’t expect was that this event would turn into one of those moving moments of a lifetime.

The lead dancer, Oksana Maslova, is from Ukraine. She is a former ballerina of the St Peterburg Ballet. She attended Kiev Choreographic College where she studied with renown figures in the ballet world. After graduating from Kiev, Oksana became a student at the Institute of Culture and Arts where she received her master’s degree as a choreographer and ballet master.

Before the performance Beatrice Jona Affron, Director of Music for the Pennsylvania Ballet, addressed the audience. She made two points. One was that Oksana is from Ukraine and that Swan Lake is a story of the triumph of good over evil.

Then the orchestra played the Ukrainian National Anthem and the audience rose as one.

We had arrived early so I had the opportunity to read the story of Swan Lake. The first act is about Prince Siegfried’s celebration of his twenty first birthday where he must choose a bride at the ball the next evening. The second act takes place at a lake where Siegfried encounters Odette who is a princess. An evil sorcerer has turned her into a swan. She can only avoid death by her one true love swearing his love to her. Siegfried realizes that his fate his now entwined with hers. Dawn approaches and Odette is compelled by the spell to return to her guise as a swan. Siegfried is left awestruck. The third act takes place at the ball where Siegfried is tricked by an evil sorcerer to marry his daughter, Odile. When Siegfried realizes that he has been part of a terrible plot, he rushes to the lakeside. At the lake Odette mourns her fate. Odette and Siegfried throw themselves into the lake. Upon their deaths, the evil sorcerer is vanquished and his curse is broken. The lovers are united forever in the hereafter.

The following timely words written by Beatrice Jona Affron were in the program notes: “But why did the people in Moscow dislike the music of Swan Lake. They rejected it for the same reason that we can’t do without it today: it teems with emotion. Apart from the scores national and social dances, most of the music in Swan Lake conveys the despair of the Swan Queen, Odette, the impetuous love of Prince Siegfried, and the cruelty of Baron von Rothbart, the sorcerer. Audiences in the late 1870’s were not accustomed to such a heavy dose of musical feeling.

It has been 145 years since the premiere of Swan Lake. While we may not know what it will look like when it turns 200, we can be comforted that it will still be here, because like Tchaikovsky himself, Swan Lake is not just about an ‘important’ bird’ – it is an eternal one.”

Apocalyptic literature in the bible has the same theme as Swan Lake. God will triumph over every evil. The book of Revelation is the book that is most known of that tradition. We hear the words, “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes and there shall be no more death neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)

I was glad that I had the opportunity to read the story of Swan Lake before seeing the performance. The performance would not have had much meaning without knowing the narrative. I needed to know the story before I could fully appreciate the performance. It is another example that ideas come before actions. It also makes it possible for you to get involved emotionally in a performance or peoples’ actions. Emotions and the soul don’t happen in a lack of awareness of why something is occurring.

When the performance of Swan Lake ended, I have never seen such a standing ovation and applause that seemed to never end. It was the triumph of good over evil. The triumph of good over evil should be the focus of our prayers. I can’t imagine what it was like for Oksana Maslova to dance that eternal notion by her flawless performance. It is an apocalyptic ballet. Watching her throughout the performance, I felt that she was dancing for her people to remind us that good needs to overcome evil is the soul of our actions in that war torn nation.

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